The longtime mayor of a southern Manitoba town will appear in a Winnipeg courtroom later this month to face an indecent-assault charge dating back nearly five decades.
Ste. Anne Mayor Bernard Vermette, 74, told the Free Press Thursday he plans to fight the allegation, which RCMP say involves an assault on a nine-year-old girl in 1966.
"I'd prefer not to say anything, but I know I'm innocent -- for a fact," Vermette said in a brief telephone interview. "As far as I can say, I'm innocent."
Vermette confirmed he has retained a lawyer and will appear in provincial court in St. Boniface on Sept. 27. He declined to comment further.
The alleged indecent assault took place in the town of Ste. Genevieve some time between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 1966, according to court records viewed Thursday. The town is located about 10 kilometres northeast of Ste. Anne across the Trans-Canada Highway.
Vermette would have been 26 or 27 years old at the time.
It wasn't until mid-July, however, that Vermette was arrested by RCMP from the St. Pierre Jolys detachment and released on a promise to appear in court.
The appearance notice orders Vermette to keep the peace and avoid contact with the alleged victim and another woman. He has no prior record of convictions.
The complainant would have been about 55 years old when in May 2012 she came forward voluntarily to make an initial disclosure. "There was no relationship between the victim and accused at the time of the incident," Staff Sgt. Ron Poirier said Thursday.
Indecent assault no longer exists as a criminal charge in Canada. It was removed from the Criminal Code in 1983 and replaced by new categories of sexual offences. Historically, however, charges are laid and prosecuted according to the legislation existing at the time of the offence.
The maximum punishment for indecent assault in 1966 was a five-year prison term and a whipping.
Vermette, a married father of three and grandfather to five kids, was elected mayor of Ste. Anne in 2006 and previously sat as a councillor from 1974 to 1980, according to his online biography posted on the Ste. Anne town website.
He's well-known for his volunteer work in the community and a business he started in the 1970s continues operations to this day, the biography states.